Discipline and self-confidence, two of the keys that have helped Martin Braithwaite, who is training three times harder than normal in his team, go from Leganés to Barcelona without disappointing.
When you don’t have the talent of the great, you need to make up for it in some way. When your technical quality hasn’t placed you among the best, other factors could. It can be intelligence, it can be hard work, it can be mentality. In Martin Braithwaite’s case, it’s a combination of all of these. Conscious of certain limitations that seemed to be only enough for minor sides, he has held on to any possible factor to raise his ceiling and become a valuable piece for a club of the stature of nothing less than Barcelona.
After some spectacular years at Toulouse followed by a less successful spell at Middlesbrough, Braithwaite seemed to have found his place at Leganés. One of the key figures in a team in a league of the dimension of La Liga, and saving them several points in the Pepineros‘ own battles. At Toulouse and Leganés he was great, yet no one would have imagined that he would be able to suddenly make the leap to Barça. Of course, one could argue that there was a strong luck factor in that transfer. The injuries of Dembélé and Suárez, the exit of Carles Pérez, and the possibility to make an emergency signing in February by the blaugranas. Admittedly, Martin was bought, but it could have perfectly been someone like Ángel Rodríguez, Willian José, Loren Morón or Lucas Pérez.
But, while arriving to Barcelona is tough as fortune always takes a big part in it, what’s hardest is to prove to have the level to play for the culés. In fact, Braithwaite, who was good with Lega, has not looked out of place at any moment at the Camp Nou. Quite the opposite, actually, as in his three games in blue and red he has already shown that he’s a footballer the squad needed a long time ago. To be more accurate, it has not even been three games for Barça: two cameo appearances against Eibar and Real Madrid, and an impressive first start and 89 minutes versus Real Sociedad. In total, 128 minutes, but these have been enough to demonstrate that he could even be missed in this season’s Champions League. And that he could perfectly be staying in Catalonia for longer.
❛ I’m sure I’ll stay for more than four and a half years at Barça. That’s how I see it in my head ❜
In his latest interviews, Braithwaite has shown a degree of self-confidence, passion and professionalism few times seen before, more so for a guy with his trajectory. Or perhaps, and most likely, this self-confidence is what has allowed him to have this surprising later stage of his trajectory. His words to the Danish public television DR prove this. “Barça’s plan is only a third part of my training, because I have added a lot more to it. I exercise my speed and stamina. I’m training much more thoroughly now than before, so I’ll be back in much better physical shape”. More than a setback given his great form, this break could even benefit Martin.
❛ Dembélé and Semedo are the fastest players in the squad. Braithwaite is also very fast ❜
“I have to be a starter and a goalscorer. When you play for Barcelona you have a lot of opportunities, so there is no doubt that I see myself scoring a lot of goals and being one of the top scorers in the team and in La Liga. That’s why I’m here”. Hard work which, he’s convinced, “will have a huge reward”. “Now there is a break, I see it as an advantage. I know there’s no one who trains and works as I do. When I come back I will be ready physically and mentally”, he continued. For him, this hiatus of activity is not dramatic for his shape. Even he described the possible returns from injury of Suárez and Dembélé as “fantastic”, as competition will make him better. “I feel I’ve done well, but I know I can do even better”.
❛ Was signing for Barça moving out of my comfort zone? In some ways, yes. But that’s not what I fear. I came here for a challenge. Be smart. It’s the key to success ❜
His former coach at Toulouse, Pascal Dupraz, said to Le Parisien back in February when the move to Barça was made official: “I’m neither surprised nor worried for him. Martin has always had high ambitions. By that time, he already told to me that he wanted to play for the biggest clubs in the world. Perhaps he needs to set unachievable objectives, because he ends up achieving them”. In so little time at Barcelona the 28-year-old has already proved that he could be very useful for Setién, thanks to his direct and intelligent movements, his explosive quality, his determination and positional understanding. And his work ethic and self-confidence. Prepare yourself for Martin Braithwaite once football is back.
How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona
The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.
El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.
In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.
Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.
Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.
Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.
Madrid’s defensive organization
After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.
The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.
Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.
Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.
What went wrong for Barcelona?
Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.
One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.
The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.
Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.
As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.
With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.
This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.